A FORMER city leader today claimed council officials “hunted down” a whistleblower who raised allegations of fraud “like a wild animal”.
Donald Anderson also raised the possibility that staff broke the law in their response to claims of fraud at Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership (ELLP), an arms-length council company. He spoke out as it emerged that a squad of around four “specialist” investigators had been drafted in to carry out a fresh probe into the allegations.
The Evening News understands the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) team includes specialists from Northern Ireland, who looked into accusations, dating from 2002, that nearly £400,000 was misspent.
Claims that whistleblower John Travers and his associates were harassed and targeted with pornography have been probed, while a decision to launch disciplinary action against him has been reviewed.
It is understood the PwC team is examining possible links between the ELLP case and alleged dirty tricks at Cameron House Community Centre.
We revealed in November that city bosses would reopen an inquiry into the ELLP claims – more than a decade after they were first raised.
Mr Anderson said: “Whilst I want to wait and see what findings emerge from this investigation, I do want to commend the council members and officers for the way they have handled this investigation.
“Bringing in a serious independent organisation should mean that these issues are properly examined in full for the first time.
“It is one of my biggest regrets of my time in the council that whilst I managed to prevent Mr Travers from being sacked, I couldn’t foresee what turned into a campaign of harassment lasting a decade. The question is not whether council policies were breached by the departments involved, as it is clear that these were discarded without so much as a second thought. The real question is whether those departments broke the law. Everything that Mr Travers raised was, I believe, eventually proven to be true.
“Rather than being commended for raising important concerns to protect taxpayers’ money, he was hunted down like a wild animal.”
Mr Anderson added: “I think everyone will want to see the justice done, and it’s a huge step forward that there is now a proper whistleblowing policy in place in the council to prevent this happening again.”
Council bosses said they took allegations of wrongdoing very seriously, adding that the ELLP case was being given “extremely high priority” by chief executive Andrew Kerr.
A spokesman said: “The council’s monitoring officer and his team have asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide additional, and specialist, resources so they can carry out a thorough investigation into past events.
“As this is an ongoing investigation, it would not be appropriate to disclose specific details at this stage, although further information will be issued to councillors through the appropriate committee when the report is completed.”